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Tag Archives: Holidays

Writers and Other Laborers

 

PayWriters

Ever since I began blogging in 2007 I’ve posted an annual Labor Day semi-rant defending the high salaries of baseball players (yes, defending them) and complaining about the economics of being a writer. Writers have much in common with baseball players—but not, unfortunately, the money. You can still read the baseball half of the post here , but I decided that since writers have far more in common with everyday working people in these dark economic times (actually dark political times), this year I’m leaving out the ball players to focus entirely on the writing segment of the American labor force.

It goes without saying that poets and writers do not make big bucks. What we have in common with baseball players, however, is wide misperception of our work. People seem to think that writers, especially those who don’t have a dozen fat books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (e-books haven’t yet achieved the same status) don’t deserve to be paid, because we aren’t really working: writing, like baseball, is viewed by most people who’ve never done it as child’s play. They imagine writers as dilletantes who loll about all day in our pajamas fiddling with words. Unlike the factory worker or waitress or computer technician, we have fun doing what we do. Besides, what of any import have we ever contributed to society?womanonsofa

I readily admit that my work is not as laborious as, say, a day in the coal mines. I do, however, work hard, and like other workers I deserve a living wage—yet I’ve been shown over and over again that few people agree with this principle. For instance: several years ago I taught a creative writing class for seniors in the upscale apartment complex where I lived. I charged a mere $5.00 per class, after trying for $10 and nobody showing up. But wait—that isn’t the crux of this anecdote.

I didn’t mind the pennies too much since I love teaching and hoped that by doing it I’d get my name out and attract clients to my writing services . Sure enough, I soon received a call from one of my students’  friends who was working on a memoir and needed help. This is just my line! Helping another writer structure her work, eliciting someone’s story and talent, editing her words and sentences–this is my favorite kind of work. Besides which, this woman’s story held elements of fascination for me, and we talked for a good half hour. I told her how I work and explained the process by which I’d help her complete and revise her book, and also advise her on publication routes. We scheduled an appointment for our first meeting. Before we hung up I said, “The only thing we haven’t discussed is my fee.”

After a moment of dead air she said, her voice dripping with outrage, “You mean you charge for this?”Money-Tree

I had never met this woman. She didn’t know me. She called me out of the blue and actually thought I’d be glad to donate my time, experience and skills out of the goodness of my heart. Can you imagine calling a car mechanic, or a piano tuner, or any other skilled professional expecting free service? This incident still knocks me out when I think of it—and believe me, I’ve run into dozens more like it.

Okay, that’s “creative writing.” So let’s talk journalism—surely a profession, no? Except for the few journalists who live at the top of the heap—those who publish in Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, for instance—we’ve never been paid fairly. Before the online phenomenon burst into life,  I wrote for magazines and newspapers, earning $50 here, $100 there, sometimes a whopping $800. I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and even the SF Chronicle, with an occasional coup such as once for Mother Jones.  Since the coming of the Internet, however, I cannot believe I complained about the low pay.

pay-here2With all these entrepreneurs getting rich online, we writers thought our rate of pay might also rise. Instead, things went from bad to woefully worse. Go onto the job sites—Elance, Guru, Media Bistro—and browse through the ads; go ahead. Online employers offer $10 or $20 for 500-word articles of the kind that once brought in $100. They want ghostwriters to do 300-page books for $500. My proposals are consistently rejected for fee estimates that are “too high.” Recently someone wanted an editor to put together an erotic anthology. You’d think since I’ve done a dozen of them I’d be a shoo-in. Not! Knowing they’d never pay it, I lopped off half the $3000 I used to get for the same work—and was rejected once more because it was “too high”.

I’ve gotten nasty emails telling me I’ve got chutzpah asking for so much money—and I give back as good as I get, with my own workers’ rights messages. One reasons they get away with paying so little is that the Internet makes it seem as if anyone and everyone can write, and all writers are created equal. There’s always a newbie or incompetent willing to write for bubkes. You may have noticed the quality of online writing, or rather lack of same.

Writer4I’ve done online work that, when I added up my hours, paid less than minimum wage. A few months ago I began editing manuscripts for  a publisher who paid $75 per. Each manuscript took me 15 to 20 hours. After I did four of them I calculated my earnings: $3.75-5.00 an hour. When I asked for more I was flatly refused, and the publisher stopped sending me work. Was I better off with $75 or with nothing? I imagine other writers ask themselves this question, and must sometimes answer by continuing to work for less than minimum wage.

Speaking of other writers, I am not alone. I’m not the only one who can’t make a living at this anymore. While it was hard ten or fifteen years ago, many of us managed to eke out an impoverished existence. We can no longer do even that. To expand my base of colleagues, the same goes on these days in the fast food industry, retail establishments, corporations, small offices, non-profits, upscale restaurants, hotels—name an industry and the people who work in it are doing 40 or more hours a week, have two or three jobs, and yet have to sleep in their cars WallSt.Protestsor worse;  they jump through hoops for food stamps (a whole other topic); go hungry so their children can eat; and let us not forget mothers, who get paid for none of their work (another whole topic: next year). We’ve heard the stories and we know the causes. We’ve demanded change in a million ways. Will it ever come? Will people ever make a living by honest labor again? I don’t know.

Happy Labor Day to all my writing compadres and other workers! Enjoy taking the day off—if you can.

The Highest Holy Day

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Image via Wikipedia

Good Yontiff. May you have an easy fast.

That’s the traditional greeting for Yom Kippur, the Highest Holy Day on the Jewish calendar, which is today. Theoretically I am not supposed to be blogging, since it’s work, and one is not supposed to work, or do much of anything else today, other than fast, pray, meditate on the past year’s sins, and atone for them, at least inwardly. (I don’t actually need an excuse, since I’m not religious, but I have one anyway: I’ve been so busy with a ghostwriting gig for the past month, I haven’t had much chance to blog, so I’m taking advantage of the holiday. Hey, I could’ve blogged about baseball instead!)

Disclaimer: Take nothing I say here as the gospel truth. I was raised culturally Jewish, not religiously. I hardly even went to synagogue as a kid; anything I’ve picked up has been as an adult, mostly from friends and the occasional Jewish service. Even now, I rarely go to temple, and only some years to Yizkor on Yom Kippur, where one says prayers for close relatives who’ve died. I started doing that in 1981, the year after my father’s death; my mother died in 2005, or 5766 on the Jewish calendar.

The following explanation of Yizkor is from Chabad.org:

At this service, one recites Yizkor elohim (may G-d remember). Prayer books have individualized paragraphs to be recited for a deceased mother, father, male relative (including husband, son, brother, uncle and grandfather), female relative (including wife, daughter, sister, aunt and grandmother), extended family and martyrs. They all follow the same pattern: the prayer asks G-d to remember the soul of the deceased and pledges to give charity on the deceased’s behalf. The person asks that the deceased’s soul be bound in the “Bond of Life” together with the souls of the forefathers and mothers and the other righteous people in the Garden of Eden. The pledge to charity is included because of the belief that an act of charity will contribute to redeeming a soul, and the prayer essentially asks G-d to take note of the charity and let it be a merit for the soul of the relative.

After the individuals recite the Yizkor prayer quietly, the Prayer Leader recites another prayer beginning El malei rahamim (“God, full of compassion”), which is similar in content to the Yizkor prayer. This is said on behalf of all the deceased for whom Yizkor was said. This same prayer is recited at funerals and at the synagogue on the anniversary of a family member’s death. The Yizkor service concludes with a prayer called av harachamim, which prays for the souls of all Jewish martyrs. Some congregations specifically mention those who were killed by the Nazis.

For a father (and all males):

May G-d remember the soul of my father, my teacher (mention his Hebrew name and that of his mother) who has gone to his [supernal] world, because I will — without obligating myself with a vow — donate charity for his sake. In this merit, may his soul be bound up in the bond of life with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous men and women who are in Gan Eden; and let us say, Amen.

For a mother (and all females):

May G-d remember the soul of my mother, my teacher (mention her Hebrew name and that of her mother) who has gone to her [supernal] world, because I will – without obligating myself with a vow – donate charity for her sake. In this merit, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous men and women who are in Gan Eden; and let us say, Amen.

Yom Kippur is the last of the Jewish New Year observances, which began ten days ago, on Rosh Hashonah. To me, the Yom Kippur services are the most moving of any Jewish observances. Once or twice I did the whole bit — fasted and spent the entire day in temple, crying my way through the prayers, even those in Hebrew I couldn’t understand. They’re designed to evoke emotion, and also, as the Jewish are most famous for evoking, guilt. The closing prayers reduce me to a puddle, and inspire me with a fervent desire to be a better person.

After taking us down to the lowest depths, this guiltfest ends, and in most synagogues they now pull you back up. Everyone holds hands while the children in the congregation come forward and stand in front. They begin tearing tiny pieces from a loaf of challah that’s then passed around to everyone else. Thus, after being dragged through an emotional trip as intense as any substance- or therapy-induced session I’ve ever had, at sunset they lift you into joyfulness. I once took a goyishe boyfriend with me to all-day services, and he said it was like those of every religion ever invented. Not only don’t I  agree, I was a bit offended. I’ve been to other religious services (not naming names!), and never felt so deeply moved. Maybe it’s because I feel more connected to Judaism – but I doubt it.

Do I “believe” in any of this? No. I do not believe, first of all, in a supernatural being – though I’m not convinced one doesn’t exist either. I suppose that makes me agnostic. I certainly don’t believe that by praying today I’ll have some kind of effect on the souls of my dead parents, or that I’ll further my own chances of not dying this year. (One asks to be “inscribed in the Book of Life” for another year.) But belief is not the point. If these rituals comfort me, if they inspire me to meditate on the deeds I’ve committed during the past year and the direction I want to go in; if they make me feel good remembering my mother and father in the presence of members of the tribe from which they and I are descended – that’s more than enough reason to participate, in whatever way I choose to do so.

And speaking of other ways to participate: for the last 15 or so years my friend Corky, a famous San Franciscan (I say famous because she’s lived here so long and has been so active, at least half the SF population knows her), has been inviting women to her home almost every Yom Kippur morning to read Jewish related poetry or prose. Word goes out to the women’s community, and different people show up every year. Some know nothing about Judaism – some aren’t even Jewish; others went to Hebrew school and are thoroughly educated. It’s like a (very) informal study group. Corky fasts, so anyone who wants to eat – which is most of us – must bring their own food and keep it out of sight. These “services” last two or three hours, after which some of us trudge over to a synagogue – usually SF’s gay and lesbian congregation – for services.

One of my most memorable Days of Atonement was the year that Susan parked in a place she thought was exempt from parking laws on this holy day, and got towed. She, Corky and I had to leave services early to deal with it. We asked two women who’d been at Corky’s house earlier if they’d drive us, and they refused.

During the cab ride to the tow lot, the three of us sang “Everybody must get towed,” (to the tune of Everybody must get stoned, of course), and talked about the irony of what had happened, of the women who wouldn’t give us a ride on this Day of Atonement.  Naturally, the car situation took up the rest of our Holy Day. We three felt we’d gotten as much out of the experience as we would have gotten in temple. And the two who stayed behind to pray? Needless to say, they were not invited back to services at Corky’s house again.

Gmar chatima tova. May you be written in the Book of Life for good.

Por Las Madres

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Here we are again, people. Another year, another Mothers Day.

First things first: Does anyone know if ‘Mothers’ gets an apostrophe here? I’ve never known. It’s something for all mothers, so it’s plurally owned, which would give it an apostrophe after the ‘s’,  right? But it’s also for each individual mother, which would put the apostrophe before the ‘s’. On the other hand, ownership isn’t really at issue here, is it? So no apostrophe anywhere. Anybody know what the correct usage is – or even where to look it up?

I’ve decided to go with the Path of Least Resistance, as my friend Robin Kramer calls her life philosophy, and drop the apostrophe altogether.

Moving right along….if you saw the poll I put up a few days ago, then you know I’m wondering how mothers actually feel about this holiday. The truth is, I’ve never known exactly how I myself feel about it. When you have a feminist analysis of the world, everything becomes some sort of conflict. And Mothers Day, which is about what I consider the primero women’s issue, is rife with conflict. When I first rejected all conventional wisdom four decades ago (ouch!), my perspective on this day was cut and dried: we’re oppressed as mothers all year long – hard work, no pay, no respect – and then they give us one lousy day. Blatant tokenism.

Unfortunately, this analysis leaves no room for reality. It doesn’t take into account the children, or any familial dynamics. I mean, what do you say to a ten-year-old who carves “MOM” into a wooden block in school and presents it as a paperweight present? Do you refuse the burnt toast and watery coffee they ceremoniously deliver to your bed Sunday morning? Grumble about oppression and the patriarchy? Of course not: like every mother, conventional or not, you wipe the tears from your eyes, force down the toast, and plant the paperweight on your desk where it remains for the rest of your natural life.

Even greater than the feminist angle, though, it’s the politics of holidays, any holiday, that drives me nuts. Because I don’t work a 9-to-5 job, from which most holidays bring relief, I pretty much hate them. Oh, I kinda like Thanksgiviing for the food, and Passover for the celebration of freedom (and the food), but in general I find holidays an intrusive burden. With the media amped up for every one of them, there’s no escape from awareness of an upcoming holiday, ever. I find it intolerable. No matter what the holiday or its purpose, the pressure to conform crushes my psyche as if a boulder is bearing down on me. What kills me is the conformity inherent in a holiday. You have to do more or less (familial and cultural variations permitted) what everyone else is doing on that day. Otherwise you’re a grouch, a curmudgeon, negative, a traitor, lacking spirit, no fun, party-pooper… let me count the labels. It’s nearly impossible to explain to children. Relatives and friends are equally baffled if you don’t participate.

If you don’t break down, if you somehow manage to avoid doing whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing, don’t think you’ll get off scot free, oh no. Don’t think for one minute that you’re going to feel liberated. The culture brainwashed us long ago, so we feel guilty if we choose not to participate. And if it’s not a choice – if, say, you have nobody to spend the holiday with – you feel sorry for yourself. It doesn’t matter that I don’t want to go to a crowded restaurant tonight  in a pastel suit wearing a corsage: if neither of my kids wants to take me, I’ll conclude it’s because I’m a wretch.

As it happens, my daughter lives in Los Angeles, just far enough to make a visit a major event, necessitating airplanes and packed clothing. Thus, I haven’t spent a single Mothers Day with her since she became a mother herself  – which is fine with both of us. She knows I like getting cards from my grandsons, and she’s taught them to sit down and draw a picture and write some variation of You’re the best Grandma. This year she also sent a stunning flower arrangement.

Because he lives nearby, my son gets stuck with the full responsibility, and suffers his own conflicts and inadequate feelings. A few years ago I took him off the hook when I said I was finished with going out to eat in a noisy roomful of strangers, so we put a merciful end to that ritual. Which leaves us dangling uneasily, both feeling we’re supposed to do something, neither of us wanting to do it.

This year we got lucky: the Yankees play the Red Sox later today. The Yanks demolished Boston in their first two games, and the Sox are doing so poorly this season, it’ll probably be a sweep. I’m so glad that when I shout Get out the Broom! it won’t be to sweep the house.

Have a lovely day, ladies, how ever you choose to spend it.

Post Post: Somehow I neglected to mention another difficult aspect of this day: the billions of people whose mothers are no longer on the material plane, some of whom were lost to us at a brutally early age. My mother only died a few years ago, but her death has certainly added another element to this day. It’s another intrusive thing about holidays: they bring a sharp reminder of who’s not here, a list that grows longer every year.

Mothers Day Poll

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I’m wondering: You mothers out there, do you like Mothers Day? Is it a relaxing day for you, or is it a burden? If you do like it, why? and if not, why not?

This is purely to assuage my curiosity, but it’s possible I’ll want to write something if the answers get interesting; if I do, I won’t use anyone’s name. So please be honest. This is, after all, the Age of Transparency (you know, like the Age of Aquarious. Sing it out!).

Feel free to put answers into Comment box.

Happy New Year

Stevie Wonder was right when he sang Superstition ain’t the way. I have a few New Year superstitions–I guess everyone does, what with the resolution thing–and they’re causing me angst.

For instance: The first song you hear is a message for the coming year.
Result: I’m afraid to take a chance on the radio–and purposely selecting a song is cheating.

(Aha! About an hour after writing this, I found an elegant solution–went to my iTunes library, closed my eyes and hit the Shuffle! The song I got was Waterfall by Cris Williamson: Sometimes it takes a rainy day/just to let you know/everything’s gonna be all right. Now, if I could just find an elegant solution to No. 2!)

No. 2: Your home must be clean as a whistle for the new year.
Result: I’m feeling totally pressured today to finish cleaning.

Actually, the subject of housekeeping has been on my mind a lot lately. It seems like I’m becoming more fanatical as I age, in theory if not in practice. I despise any form of dirt with a passion, and I was not always like this. I think it’s because I’ve seen what happens to a certain kind of woman who lives alone: women who’ve done their own housework all their lives and would never dream of hiring someone to clean. Unfortunately, they can’t see like they used to, nor do they have as much energy. Ergo: a filthy house.

I am not making this up: I helped clean a huge house belonging to a friend’s mother after she died, in her mid-80s. It was g-ross! Even the dishes in the cabinets were covered in slime, that’s how bad it was. I’m nowhere near 80, and I live in a little studio apartment; still, every day it seems to become more important for me to scrub, dust, vacuum, etcetera.

When I was in my 20s and a married lady in suburbia. I used to laugh at the women up and down the block who shined their floors til you could see your own reflection in them. My eight-room ranch house wasn’t really dirty, but I couldn’t use the floors and furniture as mirrors. Truth be told, I was too busy getting stoned with my girlfriends while our collective kids did whatever they did in the playroom.

If only my neighbors could see me now, on my bathroom floor with a toothbrush and Comet, they’d be stunned. I wonder what they’re all doing now, and whether their homes are still so clean?

Happy New Year, Ladies, wherever you are!